The workers' compensation system in Pennsylvania is designed to protect workers who are injured, disabled, or killed in the course and scope of employment. While this may seem very straightforward, our Philadelphia workers' compensation attorneys know that disputes frequently arise over the question of whether one's commute should be covered.
The average person with a 15-minute work commute can expect to spend more than 5 days every year driving. A person who works 45 minutes away will spend almost 16 days in traffic just coming-and-going from work. The question of whether injuries that occur during this time frame should be considered "work-related" for workers' compensation purposes will come down to a myriad of factors, some of which can get quite technical.
Injuries that occur "in the course of" one's employment, we're generally talking about the physical location of one's employer and its proximity in terms of time, place and circumstance to the injury. Injuries that "arise out of" one's employment have some causal connection between the injury and employment.
The Coming-and-Going Rule
The general rule, referred to in legal circles as "the coming-and-going rule," is that injuries that occur during one's commute are not deemed to be "in the course of" one's employment.
But there are of course exceptions, and an experienced workers' compensation attorney may be able to help you assert the applicability of one such exception.
Pennsylvania Exceptions to Coming-and-Going Rule
Employers and workers' compensation insurers will often automatically assert that any injury that happens during one's commute is not eligible for benefits.
The reality, however, is that there are multiple exceptions to this that have been recognized by courts in Pennsylvania.
For example, in the 2012 Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Middle District decision in Schiavone v. Aveta, the court ruled that an employee's use of a vehicle - though not on employer property - may nevertheless be deemed in furtherance of employment. This exception may apply when one has no fixed place of employment or when the worker is on a special assignment for the employer or in certain special circumstances where employee was furthering the employee's business.
So essentially, traveling employees are going to get more leeway on this rule. In the 2014 case of Holler v. Workers' Compensation Appeal Board, it was determined a cable installer could be considered a "traveling employee" because he only stopped into the office for a brief period in the morning to receive his assignments and get equipment He spent the rest of his day traveling from home-to-home. Therefore, his commute to the office in his work van was deemed compensable.
In another case in 1997, a Pennsylvania court ruled that a worker who was instructed to take his tools home with him every night so he could show up at a new job site each morning was a "traveling employee," and thus his injuries in a car accident while returning home after work one day were deemed compensable.
Fighting for Your Benefits
Don't expect your employer or workers' compensation insurer to automatically agree to cover damages incurred in a work commute accident. However, neither should you presume your injuries will not be covered. Talk with an experienced workers' compensation attorney in Philadelphia who can help you understand the process and your best chance for obtaining benefits.